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The call to preserve the old Bassick grows

November 27, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — The call to keep at least some of the Bassick High edifice is growing stronger.

The city school board at its Monday meeting heard from a steady stream of city residents and self-described history buffs who say it would be criminal to take a wrecking ball to the 1929 portion of the school that was designed by architect Ernest G. Southey on land donated to the city by the family of industrialist Edmund Chase Bassick.

“The architecture can not be reproduced whatsoever,” said Jonathan Rodriguez, a city resident.

“New is not necessarily good.” said Donna Koolis, a retired Bassick teacher, urging the board to preserve the character of the Bassick facade. “You don’t see Yale tearing down its old buildings.”

“While I realize we can’t keep every old styled structure, my vote on Bassick comes down to preserving history. The design is beautiful,” said Ethan Book, a resident of the city who said his son once attended the school.

The concern was such that the board agreed to schedule a rare session at 6 p.m. Friday, at Bassick, to hash out the options in hopes of presenting the state with a clear option by a reported Dec. 1, 2018 deadline.

There is uncertainty and frustration among board members over what it needs to approve and by when. Every time members ask, they get different answers from city building officials.

The board is determined to get on the state’s priority bonding list for the upcoming legislative session so that work on the new school can begin next summer.

And despite the cry to hold onto the old building with its pillared portico and ornate auditorium, some are ready to move on.

Albert Benejan, a parent leader at the school, came armed with a petition he said was signed by 450 students in favor of a brand new Bassick high School.

“History is beautiful,” he said. “That is why we have libraries.”

Board member Jessica Martinez said Bassick students deserve brand new.

“They see Harding High School, shiny, brand new, a new football field and they see respect that they don’t have,” Martinez said. “They understand how they feel.”

Bassick is the last of the city’s comprehensive high schools to be rebuilt. Harding was replaced this fall. Central was renovated as new, but while students and staff still occupied the building. Most consider that multiyear process to have been a disaster.

In June, the school board approved “renovate as new” educational specifications for Bassick, but made it clear with its 7-1 vote that the option was a place holder to get the process moving forward on what is expected to be a $115 million project.

Last month, city officials and project architects presented the state’s school construction grants office with three schemes: new, renovate and a hybrid option that included some new and some renovation.

Nicholas Masciangelo, the city’s director of construction management told the board the city’s assumption was the state would prefer the renovate or a hybrid option.

To their surprise, Kosta Diamantis, the state’s director of school construction grants, indicated new construction would give them the best bang for their buck, Masciangelo said.

“We thought community would like that option,”Masciangelo said.

Not everyone. School board member Maria Pereira said she is fine with tearing down a 1968 addition but has led the charge to preserve the original structure. She started an online petition and contacted E. Webb Bassick IV, the oldest survivor of the Bassick family.

“It seems to me that you have the opportunity to recreate the environment that caused my great-grand father to make his gift to Bridgeport,” Webb wrote in a letter distributed to the board. “You have the opportunity to rebuild the Bassick High School into the note-worthy and acclaimed school that it once was ... The past should not be wiped out because it may be difficult to preserve. Indeed, it should be preserved because it may be hard.”

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck

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